I’ve previously written loads of articles about good dungeon design. However, I haven’t thus far listed the things you absolutely should not include in your dungeons.
Here—in no particular order—are three things you should avoid in your dungeon design.
Unavoidable, Unkillable Monsters
There’s nothing wrong with having unavoidable encounters in a dungeon. (Often the “boss” encounters falls into this category). I’m also not particularly fussed about the inclusion of unkillable or virtually unkillable opponents (balance isn’t all its cracked up to be, after all and there is always someone tougher than yourself).
However, unavoidable, unkillable encounters are terrible design.
Designing encounters the party cannot win and cannot avoid is a spectacularly bad idea. (Particularly if you are deliberately designing the encounter to kill characters; some GMs do this for “story reasons”—sob).
Such encounters degrade the players’ ability to make meaningful choices and lead to frustration and anger. Normally in such encounters, the party are wiped out or only survive through the GM’s clumsy intervention. (Perhaps the GM has an NPC in the party who saves the day or the monsters inexplicably stop attacking because the GM is merciful).
Players love to win against the odds. Some of my most memorable gaming encounters come from clever tactics or heroic sacrifices. None of my most favourite gaming memories come from the GM saving the day.
“It’s Just Magic”
Areas that make no logical sense—except in very narrowly defined situations such as in the lair of a mad archmage—are normally a bit pants (that’s a technical phrase meaning bad design).
You should have a rational explanation for notable effects or strange locations in your dungeon. The PCs might not always figure out the details (and that’s fine). But, if the effect doesn’t make sense to you, describing it accurately and engagingly becomes that much harder. The rationale that “it’s caused by magic” can also crush the players’ suspension of disbelief which is—obviously—a bad thing.
Sure—of course—sometimes small sections of a dungeon are linear. Perhaps the dungeon entrance leads to a guardroom or you have to go through the torture chamber to get to the cells. That’s all well and good.
Some dungeons, though, are so linear they remove all meaningful choice from the players. This is terrible design. If there is only one way to go, that’s the way you’ll go. Too much of this can get incredibly frustrating, for players. A well-designed dungeon provides the players with meaningful choices. Badly designed dungeons don’t.
The worst example of this I’ve ever seen is the dungeon map for Barrow of the Forgotten King. Check out this map:
This is truly the nadir of dungeon design. The players have essentially three choices in any given encounter: go forward, go back or rest. Isn’t that exciting?
Related Dungeon Design Articles
So I’ve told you what not to include in the above article. Here are some articles I’ve written about good dungeon design.
- 2 Unusual Megadungeon Campaign Setups
- 3 Reasons to Have Wandering Monsters in Your Dungeon
- 4 Things Modern Dungeons Don’t Seem to Have Enough of Anymore
- 10 Dungeon Design Tips for Beginners
- Dungeon Design: Alternate Dungeons
- Dungeon Design: Designing the Dungeon
- Dungeon Design: Dungeon Dressing
- Dungeon Design: Dungeon Ecology
- Dungeon Design: Dungeon Names
- Dungeon Design: Dungeon Physicality
- Dungeon Design: Megadungeon Design
- Dungeon Design: Megadungeon Maps
- Dungeon Design: The Dungeon’s Purpose
- Dungeon Design: Things to Know About a Dungeon
- Dungeon Design: What Surprising Thing Does a Dungeon Need?
What Do You Think?
Did I miss anything that personifies bad dungeon design? Let me know, in the comments below.